There was more to Star Trek’s holodeck than holograms.

The promise of this fantastic device wasn’t just that it could show you an adventure visually. It had a tactile element. When Jean Luc Picard was macking on non-existent film noir chicks as Private Detective Dixon Hill in Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes like “The Big Goodbye,” he could feel them, and we’ll let your imagination go from there.

Tommygun-picard
Picard also used the holodeck to take out his frustrations with Wesley Crusher.

It’s a vital component to a fully immersive virtual reality experience, and one that just a bit closer thanks to research at Bristol University.

The researchers have used focused ultrasound to create 3D virtual shapes that hover in mid-air. You can touch and feel the contours of these shapes. The researchers say this tactile element could be added to 3D displays to create a convincing virtual experience.

Their suggestions for use include, for example, a surgeon exploring a CT scan with her hands or virtual museum displays.

“Touchable holograms, immersive virtual reality that you can feel and complex touchable controls in free space, are all possible ways of using this system. In the future, people could feel holograms of objects that would not otherwise be touchable, such as feeling the differences between materials in a CT scan or understanding the shapes of artifacts in a museum,” said Dr. Ben Long, Research Assistant from the Bristol Interaction and Graphics (BIG) group in the Department of Computer Science.

And that’s great, but let’s admit right here this is going to eventually end up in video games like every other major computer technology. Time will tell if we ever get the full Dixon Hill experience, but we’re holding out hope that the promise of hot tamales and Tommy Guns might one day be fulfilled.

[Source: Bristol University]

Image via Bristol Interaction and Graphics (BIG) group

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